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Unauthorized ALPR Cameras Implemented on Hundreds of South Carolina Roads

Surveillance Camera Oversight Illustration

Unauthorized ALPR Cameras Implemented on Hundreds of South Carolina Roads

South Carolina roads have recently been witness to a privacy concern that residents did not sign up for – hundreds of unauthorized Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) cameras have been planted across the state’s public roadways.

The Unauthorized Installations

These ALPR cameras, installed by a private entity without official authorization, have been snapping photos of vehicles and their license plates, raising numerous questions about privacy and regulation. The discovery made by the South Carolina’s Department of Transportation (SCDOT) during their regular monitoring has revealed that over 200 of these unpermitted cameras were provided and placed by a company named Flock Safety.

These unauthorized ALPR cameras brought to a sudden halt the approval of any new license plate cameras on South Carolina’s state roads – a decision attributed to “ongoing litigation” by SCDOT.

Flock Safety, serving across the nation, caters to law enforcement, retail businesses, homeowners associations, and more. They have contracted with several main cities in South Carolina; Greenville and Charleston are among them.

Law Enforcement and Privacy Implications

The effectiveness of these cameras in fighting crime is indubitable – Charleston’s Police reported having twelve Flock cameras that have aided in crime control, whereas Greenville’s Police have stated that its thirty Flock cameras have been instrumental in recovering stolen vehicles and capturing wanted criminals.

However, with the good comes the potentially intrusive. The data gathered and images captured by Flock’s cameras are owned by the customer, be it public or private. As per the company, they do not sell or share this data with private third parties.

Moreover, in the absence of regulations specific to ALPRs in South Carolina, concerns about how this data is used and who can access it have been rampant. Critics suggest such surveillance systems have the potential to violate citizens’ privacy rights. Amid these concerns, the government watchdog filed a lawsuit last year against South Carolina’s State Law Enforcement Division for overstepping their authority by maintaining a comprehensive database of license plate reads.

Counter Actions and Ongoing Debate

Reacting to the unauthorized camera installations, Flock Safety spokesperson, Connor Metz, has mentioned that these actions resulted from unidentified or misunderstood DOT jurisdiction lines. Metz also added that the company has always complied whenever asked to check their devices’ installation locations or when asked to remove them due to their placement across jurisdictional lines.

In light of these significant privacy concerns, a resolution has been proposed by Florence County lawmakers in the state House of Representatives to demand stricter rules and clear guidelines on the installation and use of ALPRs. Furthermore, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of such surveillance systems against the risks they possess to citizens’ private lives.

To date, there continues to be an ongoing debate among lawmakers, privacy advocates, and community members about the balance between surveillance for safety versus citizens’ right to privacy, with the government and private companies being called upon to provide clearer rules for the use of such technology.

Despite these measures, the call for a comprehensive and enforceable regulatory framework that strikes a balance between the advantages of such surveillance systems in crime prevention and the potential invasions of privacy continues to grow louder.

Unauthorized ALPR Cameras Implemented on Hundreds of South Carolina Roads Spartanburg SC

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